Wildlife in my Garden

In Search Of Little Things of Significance.

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In March masses of grasshopper nymphs erupt in the Garden Route and can be seen clinging in clusters on low shrubs and polls of grass.

As we enter our second week of isolation, our routine has established to include two daily walks around our property. Not only an opportunity to get some exercise and let the dogs romp around, it has become a quest to find new and interesting wildlife.

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A Katydid peers from between two blades of grass.

Hidden between the various stands of vegetation, there is an incredible world of micro fauna. Most people will call them bugs and pests, but with a measure of patience and focused observation, these small creatures have an amazing array of survival tactics that can be entertaining to watch.

Each group of invertebrates, animals without a spine, have their own quirky behavioral traits. While every species is fascinating when you spend time watching it, spiders are my personal favorite. After a few hours of studying the vegetation carefully, soon you get to recognize the signs of spiders.

Web Design.

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A funnel spider collecting a fly from the web.

Early morning is the easiest, especially after a cool night, Webs will have droplets like a miniature string of diamonds across the grass or between grass seed heads.

Never, for one moment, think that because insects and arachnids are small that they have poor vision. If you approach too fast and get too close, whatever you where hoping to observe close up will take evasive action. Approaching while standing up and looming over the animal is probably the worst that you can do. Rather approach from the same level or lower and do so very cautiously.

Even spiders in a web will scurry or bungi jump to safety if you approach too quickly.

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This Lynx Spider had been hiding to ambush some prey in a flower head and got lucky when a Metallic Longhorn Beetle landed to feed.

An easy group of spiders to start watching are the tunnel spiders. Easy to find, you just need to home in on their web across the ground or lawn. At first, if you are lucky, you will see the spider dash down the tunnel in the center of the web as you approach. Don’t worry, she will soon be back. The best is to lie down on the ground from an angle that you can see partially down the tunnel.

Then just wait.

Soon the spider will emerge and then patrol the web to make repairs or to collect insects caught on the web. When the patrolling is finished, she will return to the opening of the tunnel and wait till something lands on the web. As quick as a flash, it will dash out, bite the prey and if it is large, quickly wrap it in a retaining strand of silk before returning to the opening of the tunnel.

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Jumping Spiders actively hunt their prey. When they see a suitable meal they will jump onto it and wrap it in silk. They can be very entertaining to watch.

Crab and Lynx Spiders are harder to find, but are fascinating to watch. Their strategy is to ambush their prey when it come into feed on nectar from a flower. Hidden with a combination of camouflage and stealth, they will pounce on a butterfly or bee, anchored to the flower by a strand of silk. If you are lucky enough to see the kill from first bite, it can take over twenty minutes before the prey succumbs to the toxin and the spider can proceed with eating.

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A Lynx Spider missing three legs. When I found this spider I was so focused on stalking it that I didn’t notice that it had some legs missing until I reviewed the photo.
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A pink coloured Crab Spider with a large meal of a butterfly. The spider had been hiding in ambush on a flower.

Butterfly Wings.

Butterflies are all over at this time of the year and in the Garden Route you should be able to distinguish more than ten species. They become more active in the early morning and then calm down after midday. They love to flit around patches or flowers that they prefer with some species favoring grasses and other in the flower section of the garden.

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Despite their vivid colours, often when butterflies land, they close their wings and they blend into the background, almost invisible.

You will soon discover just how alert butterflies are when you begin to stalk them. They will flush form their feeding spot when you are more than 2m away, so approach slowly. Butterflies will flit around a patch, often returning to a flower that they have fed on before. Flowers will withhold nectar for up to 7 minutes when heavily fed on. This forces the butterflies, and other insects, to move to other flowers and pollinate other plants before returning to a flower, hopefully with new pollen. In the space of half an hour you will be able to determine the feeding pattern and plan how where to wait for a close up view of the butterflies.

Goggle Eyes.

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A common Lagoon Fly with its enormous eyes which look like a space age helmet. These flies are incredibly fast and only slow down in the evening and are difficult to find

Some of the more difficult species to get close to are the dragonflies and flies. Early morning or late afternoon when it is cooler are the best times to look for them and they are not so active. If you are able to photograph them or have a pair of binoculars that can focus over a short distance, you will be amazed at the eyes of the insects. In dragonflies, their eyes look like helmets with a colour spectrum, while some flies look like they have some futuristic glasses on.

You will soon learn just how good their eyes as they flush, even when you are up to 5m away. Dragonflies hunt flies and other small flying insects so have to have incredible vision to first spot their prey as it flies at high speed, and then to chase it. As poikilothermic animals, they do however need to be warn to function well. On a cool morning and evening, they are less active and are easier to approach. This is when you will find them resting on a twig near a river or pond, or in the long grass.

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